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Cujo

(Lewis Teague, USA, 1983)


 


Stephen King’s success as a horror novelist is beyond dispute, but the precise significance of his books – and the films and television mini-series that have been made from them – is more debatable.

For me, King is in the conservative rearguard of modern horror, far less interesting than filmmakers like David Cronenberg or Larry Cohen.

Although King paints himself as a fun guy and celebrates his own work as "fast-food literature", his work consistently betrays a thundering, Old Testament morality: don’t cheat on your spouse, don’t wander over to the "other side" … and it endlessly denounces modern evils like television, industrial society and (ahem) fast food.

Cujo certainly fits the King bill. It’s a Fatal Attraction-style cautionary tale about adultery, with a supernaturally murderous dog as God’s avenging angel.

However, moral lesson aside, it’s a marvellously well-made movie.

Like many expert, unsung films of its kind, it intricately builds up a web of interpersonal clues and cultural connections, as it probes an unlovely family unit (including a brilliant performance by Dee Wallace as the mother). This clan is menaced by external horrors that manifest internal tensions.

The real star of the film – apart from Cujo the dog, who degenerates very convincingly indeed – is director Lewis Teague. The way he milks every possible cinematic effect from a prolonged situation – a car, mother and child (Danny Pintauro) inside, Cujo outside – makes for spellbinding and instructive viewing.

MORE Teague: TBone N Weasel

© Adrian Martin October 1990


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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